I always thought it was strange that after watching a movie together, my friends would always want to sit around and discuss it. Didn’t we just watch it together? Didn’t we all see the same thing? From the arguments that ensued, it was clear that even though we saw the same movie, we did not see the same thing.
The Sabbath before Tisha B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the Sabbath of vision) after the opening words of the Book of Isaiah that are read in synagogue on that day. The verse describes the prophet’s “vision” of devastation and bears a harsh message for Israel.
The first two Temples were realities that have been described by historians in great detail. The dates of their construction and destruction are known.
The second chapter of Isaiah is also a vision but it stands in sharp contrast to the first. In it, the prophet describes the Third Temple in glowing terms. Isaiah’s two visions help us feel what we have lost and why, while at the same time giving us a glimpse of what we can hope for.
Both the first and second Temples were destroyed, but we have a tradition that the third will last forever. What is going to be different about the Third Temple that it will last forever when the other two didn’t?
Before there was a Temple the Jews had the Tabernacle. This sufficed for over four hundred years, first in the desert and later in the Land of Israel. Then came Solomon’s Temple, built on the threshing floor purchased by King David. The First Temple stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. The Second Temple was completed in 515 BCE and was destroyed by the Romans during the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE.
The Jews have been dreaming of the Third Temple for over 2,000 years while at the same time mourning the loss of the first two Temples.
In Jewish literature, the First Temple corresponds to Abraham, the second to Isaac, and the Third Temple (may it be built speedily and in our time) corresponds to Jacob. Abraham personifies the trait of Chesed (loving kindness), Isaac personifies the trait of Gevurah (strength or judgment), and Jacob personifies Emet (truth). Chesed and Gevurah have limits and can be subjective, but Emet is unlimited and objective. Emet is eternal. And so is the Third Temple.
Hasidut teaches that the Tabernacle and the first two Temples were built by man at the behest of God. And the Temples were destroyed through the sins of Man. The sages teach that the Third Temple will be built by God Himself as a result of the merit of the Jews. Throughout the long exile the Jews remained loyal and devoted to God. The merit of this labor is intensified by the devotion required to weather 2,000 years of exile.
And the reward will correspond to the suffering. After 2,000 years of fidelity and belief in the God of Israel despite the bitter exile and tremendous suffering, the Jews have returned to Israel. This fidelity will be the foundation on which God Himself will build the Third Temple and, as a result, it will not be destroyed. We pray that it will be built speedily in our day.